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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. ADAMS COUNTY (10/27/78)

decided: October 27, 1978.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE, APPELLANT,
v.
ADAMS COUNTY, HARRY F. BIESECKER, ROBERT W. KLUNK AND KENNETH E. GUISE, COMMISSIONERS, APPELLEES



No. 93 May Term 1977, Appeal from order of the Commonwealth Court at No. 911 C.D. 1976

COUNSEL

Melvin H. Evans, Jr., J. Justin Blewitt, Jr., Deputy Attys. Gen., for appellant.

John R. White, Carlisle, for appellees.

Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix, Manderino and Larsen, JJ. Manderino, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which Pomeroy, J., joined.

Author: Eagen

[ 481 Pa. Page 234]

OPINION OF THE COURT

In this action in assumpsit filed in the Commonwealth Court by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Public Welfare, the Commonwealth sought recovery from Adams County and its Commissioners for fifty per cent of the costs of administering the Federal Food Stamp Program in that county during the period July 1, 1974, to March 31, 1976. The court below sustained defendants' preliminary objection in the nature of a demurrer and dismissed the plaintiff's complaint. This appeal followed.

The background of the case is as follows: In August, 1964, Congress enacted the Food Stamp Program which provided for optional participation by states and their political subdivisions.*fn1 In December, 1965, the Pennsylvania General Assembly responded by enacting three statutes which, taken together, provided for statewide implementation of the program on a voluntary basis.*fn2 Each of these laws permitted

[ 481 Pa. Page 235]

    adoption of the Food Stamp Program by resolution, and established the percentage of administrative costs to be assumed by participating counties and paid to the administering state agency, the Commonwealth's Department of Public Welfare (Department). In November, 1967, acting pursuant to Section 1991 of the Pennsylvania County Code*fn3 permitting participation by third through eighth class counties,*fn4 the Commissioners of Adams County, a county of the sixth class,*fn5 adopted the program by resolution. By subsequent resolution in February, 1968, Adams County withdrew its participation in the program before implementation was begun.

In June, 1967, the General Assembly enacted Section 471 of the Pennsylvania Public Welfare Code.*fn6 Section 471 re-enacted Section 1991's method of computing the share of administrative costs owed to the Department by " each county or city of the first class." [Emphasis added.] Although Section 471 made no reference to voluntary adoption of the program by political subdivisions, as was provided by Section 1991, neither did it explicitly repeal Section 1991.*fn7

Implementation of the Food Stamp Program in Adams County began on March 1, 1972. At that time responsibility for the county's share of administrative costs was voluntarily assumed by the Adams County Council of Community Affairs. On August 10, 1973, the Federal Food Stamp Act was amended, effective June 30, 1974, to require each "State

[ 481 Pa. Page 236]

    agency"*fn8 to submit "a plan of operation specifying the manner in which such State agency intends to conduct the program in every political subdivision in the State . . ."*fn9 On July 1, 1974, the Adams County Council of Community Affairs terminated its funding of the county's share of administrative costs. Nevertheless, the Department continued distributing food stamps in Adams County and billed the county for fifty per cent of the administrative expenses for each quarter in the period from July 1, 1974, to March 31, 1976, when the liability for participating counties was terminated.*fn10 By this action, the Department seeks to recover half of the costs of administering the Food Stamp Program during that period, or approximately $13,300.

The Department claims recovery on two bases: (1) Adams County's statutory liability under 62 P.S. § 471, and (2) its liability in quasi-contract on a theory of unjust enrichment. Commonwealth Court sustained a preliminary objection to the plaintiff's complaint on both grounds. We have concluded that a cause of action was stated under 62 P.S. § 471, and the Commonwealth Court erred in dismissing the Department's complaint.

The Federal Food Stamp Act of 1964 provided for optional participation by States and their political subdivisions in the Federal Food Stamp Program. The ...


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